Jul 26, 2011

Seeking Inspiration

I've read a number of Artscroll biographies, which I've enjoyed. Maybe I've chosen to read about interesting personalities. I don't agree with the complaint that the subjects are boring and interchangeable. Anyone who has read the books about R' Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, R' S.R. Hirsch, and R' Pam would have to agree that each one stands out as an individual and their biographies do not consist of: he was a child prodigy, he learned a lot, he learned some more and had students whom he taught.

In an interview, Rabbi Nosson Scherman, Artscroll's general editor, said, "Our goal is to increase Torah learning and yiras shamayim. If somebody can be inspired by a gadol b’Yisrael, then let him be inspired. Is it necessary to say that he had shortcomings? Does that help you become a better person? What about lashon hara? You know in today’s world, lashon hara is a mitzvah. Character assassination sells papers. That’s not what Klal Yisrael is all about."

Is it that I'm not remembering or are the critics exaggerating when they say - the subject was a child prodigy who held from every conceivable chumrah (stringency) and who never said a word of lashon harah.  One reads nothing about the obstacles within their families or society that they had to overcome to become the great people they became.

The reason I've been thinking about this is because I heard a lecture about the Cairo geniza in which they found writing by the Rambam.  The lecturer was very pleased to see that the Rambam doodled.  The geniza expert explained that Rambam's pen was running out of ink, he filled it, and made the squiggle before he continued writing.  The lecturer loves this as he sees it as making the Rambam human, a person like us.  He asks, does it do anyone a favor to read of a great Torah leader and how he mastered this and that at very young ages?

I don't understand his question.  Favor? If the man was a prodigy, should we hide that information? The fact is, the overwhelming majority of our great Torah leaders were brilliant and mastered unbelievable amounts of Torah before they were 20.  I like knowing that the Torah leaders who have shaped Jewish life were great intellectuals.  I also like to know that they were kind, but I see nothing wrong, on the contrary, I want to hear that our Torah greats were extraordinary men! The fact that the average child or person can't measure up to them in brilliance is just fine.  It's good to know our place.  That shouldn't deter the person looking for inspiration because it's there, if you want it.  I am reading the revised biography of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein.  Yes, he was brilliant but the average person can be inspired to be a masmid like him and as kind as him.  We can use these biographies as an excuse or an inspiration; the choice is ours.

No comments:

Post a Comment